August 31, 2012
- Visit the museum. It’s included in the cost of admission and well worth an hour to learn about the rock before you climb and you probably wont need a guide.
- Arrive early as the crowds gathered around 11AM.
- Bring water!
- Ask for good directions to the car park. You will meet your driver there and not at the main entrance.
Today we visited Sigiriya, which has been the highlight so far in Sri Lanka. We almost skipped Sigiriya, since there were so many interesting sounding places in the ancient cities section of our guidebook. When we first arrived at the airport in Colombo we stopped by the Sir Lanka Tourism counter and the gentleman there said we had to see Sigiriya. We asked again at our hotel in Anuradhapura and were told it was worth seeing. We highly recommend including a stop at Sigiriya if you visit Sri Lanka. It is expensive, as are most of the sights in Sri Lanka. Foreigners pay USD $30 per person for the entrance ticket.
We got to Sigiriya by our hired taxi, which was taking us all the way from Anuradhapura to Kandy. It was an expensive mode of transportation, costing us around USD $90 for the day, but it allowed us to skip two 3 hour bus rides and save a day that would have otherwise been spent traveling. We normally do not mind long bus rides, but here in Sri Lanka there is no guarantee that you will get a seat on the bus, and standing for a long bus ride does not sound like a good time. The taxi was a large AC van, and we could have fit 4 more people in it, if we had found other travelers with whom to share. The driver also stopped off at other sights between Sigiriya and Kandy, some of which we decided to skip.
Sigiriya was quite amazing, on many levels. It is a huge flat-topped rock, jutting out of the ground, 200 meters high (a magma plug from an extinct volcano that long ago eroded away). Just in a geological sense it is amazing. Then there are the historical and cultural elements. The rock, with natural caves and rock over-hangs, may have been inhabited since prehistoric times. Many people believe that there was once a summer palace on top of the rock. Another theory is that the ruins are from what had always been a Buddhist monastery. According to our guide book, monks were using Sigiriya as a mountain hermitage by the 3rd century BC, and it had become an important monastery by the 10th century AD. Whether a palace or monastery, the top of Sigiriya is quite the location to build, with commanding views of the area.
After buying our tickets we walked through the museum, which was better than we expected. At the entrance there are photos showing before and after restoration of the ruins. Then there are TVs playing an introductory video. The third TV, hidden in the back, is in English. There are other rooms explaining the long history of Sigiriya and containing artifacts that were found in the area.
Around 11:30am we started out accent up Sigiriya. It was already quite crowded with many Sri Lankan visitors. The first part leading up to the rock is a water garden, and one of the oldest surviving gardens in Asia. The water works built here in Sri Lanka over a thousand years ago are truly amazing! There were multiple ponds and even fountains, that used to be gravity fed by ponds higher up.
It is a bit of a climb even to reach the base of Sigiriya Rock. At the base is a pair of lion’s paws and a stairway, which used to lead up through a lion’s mouth.
Only the imagination can now conjure up what this place used to look like and the past daily life!
Along the stairway leading up Sigiriya there were signs warning of hornets’ nests and telling people to stay calm and not move, in case of a hornet attack. There was even a little shed where people who are allergic to hornet stings could pick up a jumpsuit to wear. As we climbed the stairs we could see huge hornets’ nests hanging off the side of the rock. If there were a hornet attack it would be pandemonium. There would be a stampede down the narrow stairway and probably even people jumping off the side of the rock.
The higher we climbed the more we had to trust the narrow walkway and hand rail clinging to the side of the rock. It is a lot farther down than it looks in the photo.
Near the top of the rock there was a detour up a spiral staircase leading to some ancient paintings. My fear of heights was really kicking in as I slowly and carefully made my way up the twisting staircase.
In the photo above you can see the spiral staircase in the background. The wall in the foreground contains ancient graffiti, which is a record of some very early written languages.
The ancient paintings were being protected from sunlight by a fabric drapery. But the guard stationed there saw George’s camera and pulled the drapery aside to let in more light so George could get some clear photos (without flash of course)!
After about an hour of climbing, we finally reached the top of Sigiriya Rock.
There were a ton more people up here than the photos make it appear. You could spend several hours up here exploring especially if you hired a guide. However, we had to make it down to Kandy that evening so we only explored for about an hour.
After we made our way back down the rock and were searching for the parking lot where we were supposed to meet our driver we came across a snake charmer. I didn’t want to get too close, just in case.
If you are an international tourist and arrive by vehicle, you are supposed to meet your driver in a different location than the front entrance. It is to the left of the rock as you make your descent near the bottom. However, it was difficult for us to find our way. Luckily, a local saw us looking lost and guided us down to the parking lot. Near the lot are last chance souvenir stands and places to get refreshments. In particular, there is a a great smoothie stand where I had a watermelon shake and George had a mango fresh shake. Both fresh, delicious and perfect for the moment!
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